Thursday, August 09, 2007

Allyn Johnston & Marla Frazee...

Lin Oliver dubbed the session with Allyn Johnston of Harcourt and illustrator Marla Frazee the one with the longest title in the history of SCBWI conferences: "Baby Steps, Boxer Shorts, Birthday Cake, and a Roller Coaster: An Illustrator and an Editor Get Serious About Making Picture Books."

This was an interesting look into the process of picture book making from an editor and illustrator who obviously have a great working relationship and enjoy working together.

They started off talking about a book Marla illustrated called Mrs. Biddlebox, written by the late Linda Smith. This was first published by HarperCollins in 2007. It sold 12,500 copies then went out of print. Harcourt purchased the rights and are reissuing the title with a new cover. Marla and Allyn talked about the cover process and showed some designs. They were encouraged to go with something brighter for the new edition, and produced a cover with a pink background (a nice tribute to the author who died of breast cancer), adding a subtitle. When they showed the cover to the Borders buyer, they were told that "nothing about this book is pink," and if they went with a pink cover, Borders wouldn't buy in the book. So they changed to a blue background. The book releases October 1, and thus far Borders has not ordered any copies.

The original Mrs. Biddlebox cover (which I think is amazing, dynamic and gorgeous and is truly one of my favorite picture book covers ever).

The new Mrs. Biddlebox cover with it's blue background and new subtitle. (Note the title character's pink undies!)

Here are a few more things I enjoyed hearing and thus jotted down:

  • (Marla) The picture books Allyn edits have an emotional center. She has an amazing ability to pierce through the confusion and find the beating heart of the story.
  • (Allyn) The mother of all page turns in 31 to 32--the last page of a picture book must have a strong emotional impact.
  • (Allyn) Authors and artists have the scariest job in the field in creating something out of nothing.
  • They talked about getting to a point where they have to look at the advice from Sales & Marketing and booksellers and finally say enough is enough and create the book they believe in. The most important thing is having the chance to connect with readers in a meaningful way--this is what keeps them going.


Wild About Words said...


Thanks so much for the insight into the conference.

I love Mrs. Biddlebox and vastly prefer the original cover. You can read more about it on my blog at


Bev. Cooke said...

The original cover is much better than the new one - and I still miss Linda!

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